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It began with about 40 local racers headed out for little more than a day in the saddle. But even that number is debatable between those in Triple Ring Productions (TRP), the organizing body of the Butte 100 endurance mountain bike race. Back then, record keeping ranked just below figuring out who’s buying the post-race beer. Fast forward five short years and the race has evolved from its Montana-esque, grassroots approach into one of the nation’s newest elite endurance mountain bike races.
This past July, a record 228 racers came from 14 states and Canada to test their endurance at the fifth annual event. The routes, a 50- and 100-mile figure eight course, ramble over frontage roads, technical pitches, sandy duel-tracks, and endless miles of smooth Continental Divide Trail singletrack. The draw is seeing over 16,000 feet of climbing recorded on the racer’s GPS; 9,000 feet for the 50-milers. The Butte 100 is quickly becoming known as the most difficult race in the country. At least that’s what mountain biking legend Tinker Juarez says.
Tinker was back for a second year of competing in his favorite race—and posted a course record (9 hours 36 minutes) on his way to winning the 100 mile open class. He was made aware of the race in 2009 through a friend, while racing in Costa Rica. He did some research, called then race director Bob Waggoner, and committed. Tinker saw an opportunity—an opportunity for a race, a town, and a gauge of his own conditioning in the critical weeks leading up to Leadville.
Word of Tinker’s 2010 registration in this little, down-home race somewhere on Montana’s Continental Divide seemed to sweep through the bike community. Riders from around the country now set their sights upon Butte. Overnight, the 2010 Butte 100 had literally tripled in size.
The four making up TRP, Gina Evans, Guy Vesco, Bob and Gwen Waggoner, knew very well that 2010 could mark a turning point in the race—everyone knew. The opportunity to put the race on ‘map,’ and to realize the long-held vision of bringing endurance mountain bike racing to Montana, had just fell out of the sky.
However, knowing little more than organizing a race for a handful of locals, the organizers went about their tasks as they had only ever known. The explosion in numbers exposed weaknesses: a poorly marked turn sent racers off course; a late afternoon squall ripped canopies and poles into one congealed mess; handwritten results melted under the rain; and the post-race food were sorely underestimated. Weeks after the event, results were finally posted—skewed at best. The opportunity to showcase itself to the mountain biking world was a failure and the future of the Butte 100 was uncertain.
Not long after the race, an employee at The Outdoorsman bike shop was visiting with Bob and Gina about the race. A guidebook author and graduate student at Montana Tech saw an opportunity to apply his technical communication thesis to the race and offered his time. The crew agreed to bring him on board. It turned out to be just what they were looking for. The addition of Jon Wick and his race bible thesis injected life into the veins of the depleted TRP.
It became time for introspection. The members of TRP took a long look at needed to be done to improve the race. A unanimous consensus was reached: if the Butte 100 was going to attract world-class athletes, it needed to be a world-class race. Period. The group recommitted themselves to the vision and a series of events never before seen in the history of the Butte 100 were sent into motion.
TRP turned proactive, seeing the onslaught of criticisms as constructive—valuable feedback to help the race. People began to catch wind of the newly energized crew and offered themselves to the cause. Ryan Munsen, an aid-station worker in years past, offered his time to redevelop the race’s almost counter-productive website: www.butte100.com was born, providing a much needed avenue between the race and its racers. Not long after that, Phil Dean, a former racer himself, approached the team to aid in the organization and recruitment of volunteers. The original four members of TRP had nearly doubled.
TRP brought on Montana Timing, a top-shelf timing company able to handle accurate and near instantaneous results. Race bibles were published and sent as racers registered, providing valuable course information months before the snow had even cleared from the course. The website became indispensable. All this allowed TRP to focus on other necessities: recruiting sponsors, volunteers, and perfecting course markings. Rob Leipheimer, owner of The Outdoorsman Sport Shop in Butte, generously donated a brand-new Specialized mountain bike for a volunteer raffle. Confidence in the race was building. One short year after the wheels fell off, the 2011 Butte 100 closed registration with 228 racers and over 60 volunteers—both are race records.
That confidence spilled over to race day. The riders hammered under a typical summertime bluebird day. The elite racers relentlessly pressed Tinker throughout the day. Reports surfaced that John Curry surpassed Tinker for nearly 11 miles until cramping ensued. On the notorious climb out of the Basin Creek aid station, Tinker regained the lead and danced along the CDT never looking back. He crossed the finish line twelve minutes ahead of John and almost an hour before the next chaser, Bill Martin. An epic race, on all fronts, was happening that day.
The TRP crew doesn’t look to slow down either. Trail scouting is already underway and possible improvements are getting scribbled down. Their sites are set on August 4th, 2012, the date of next year’s Butte 100 mountain bike race.
Unfortunately, growing pains are a necessary evil for every race. But the flawless 2011 race proved the Butte 100 has officially moved beyond infancy and has shown the world it’s now ready to line up next to any race in the country.
It’s no longer a vision; it’s as real as Tinker Juarez passing you on the Basin Creek climb.